Without the kids, who keeps Halloween alive?

WHYY NewsWorks (EssayWorks series)
October 29, 2015

Halloween is nearly upon us. But you wouldn’t know it from our house. Outside, no decorative gourds, no spikey sheaves of grain, no bundle of dried corncobs decorating the entry. Inside, no cornucopia sitting as a centerpiece on the dining room table, overflowing with autumn’s bounty. Without the kids around anymore, Halloween has become a non-event.

But when the kids were young, Halloween definitely was an event. It heralded the beginning of the holiday season. At the first chilly night, the family went into seasonal overdrive. Off to Linvilla Orchards for piles of plump pumpkins, pots of yellow and orange mums, and a bale of straw to be turned into stuffing for our “fall tableau.” We each would contribute a worn shirt (ideally flannel) and a pair of pants to be stuffed. The straw-stuffed bodies were propped up on a bench in the yard and topped with pumpkins for heads. Voila! Mom and Dad and brother and sister in scarecrow form.

The heart of Halloween, though, was costume-planning. Well before the nights turned cold, sometimes at the first sign of summer’s fading in August, my husband and daughter would go into caucus over their costumes. My husband was not a big fan of trick-or-treating, but he joined in our daughter’s planning with good-hearted gusto (and also with the hope that he might get a couple Snickers bars out of it for his trouble). These costumes weren’t purchased at a Halloween pop-up store at the mall. They were made by hand by my daughter and husband (mostly my husband) and were eagerly anticipated each year by the households they visited on their rounds. One year she was a maiden from Camelot who traveled with her own Merlin, she lovely in flowing medieval wear and he majestic in long grey cape and outsized wizard’s hat spangled with stars. Another year, she was a Southern belle and he her charming beau.

As our daughter got older, the costumes evolved from cute to clever, like the time they went as “Coke with a straw.” She wore a silver cylinder of poster board with scarlet graphics (for Diet Coke, of course), and he made a flexible tube by basting a series of hula-hoops into sheets painted with red stripes. He then wore this contraption in such a way that he could make it bow just where a bendy straw would bend.

Another time they went as “partly sunny.” She wore grey sweatpants and sweatshirt with bunches of white balloons (somehow pinned to the sweatshirt) so that she looked like a walking cumulus cloud. He fashioned a mask of yellow rays flaring from around his head, like the pictures of Old Sol in antique children’s books. Strapped around his head beamed a kind of miner’s lamp. As they walked through the neighborhood, there was no doubt that the day was sunny with some clouds. They always came home with bags bulging with sugared booty — and if our daughter was happy it was all worth it to my husband.

Now many harvest moons have passed. Both kids are out of college and out of the house. Less than two months ago we were all together for Labor Day weekend, just about the time that my husband and daughter used to get down to serious Halloween costume business. Sitting out on the deck, he smiled and said to her, “So, what should we dress as for Halloween this year?” Our daughter turned a pitying eye on her father and sighed, “Oh, Pops. I never liked doing all that Halloween costume stuff. I only did it because it was so important to you.”